Once upon a time, there was a sage. He spent many years meditating in isolation. One day, he saw a lost, hungry kitten standing at his doorstep and fed it some milk. As would be expected, that cat soon became a regular. And then it got even more friendly and would prawl around his house. And then it went too far – the cat started disturbing him during his meditation. So now he would tie the cat before he meditated.
Years passed and someone found this sage, was touched deeply by him and brought other people. Soon, he had a set of disciples. And then one day, he died. The disciples continued to follow his teachings. One fateful day, his cat died.
That was it. The whole ashram was immersed in chaos, people frustrated, lost, arguing, because now they had to find the ‘right’ cat, without which it would be impossible to start their meditation – after all, tying the cat was the first step!
This sums up culture for you.
And it is a pity, Because if you were paying attention, you would have realised that the initial message is completely lost in this quest to maintain ‘tradition’. What we do in the name of tradition often defiles and violates the very thing we set out to protect.
There have been many protests in India thanks to a system going through a transition. And while some traditions have been targetted by vested interests, most have been questioned for the right reasons. Unfortunately, people are so busy trying to find the cat, that they’ve forgotten the philosophy at the very core of our culture: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. (One world, one family)
One of the biggest drawbacks of Indian culture as I observed it growing up, was this drastic lack of a sense of personal space. People on the train could ask you if you were married, why not, how many children, and how much money you earned. All before bestowing you with precious advice about how you should live your life. Distant aunts tried to determine who should marry you. But all was OK, because ultimately, it was Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. You were never alone. You could walk in to a stranger’s house and they would give you food and a place to stay. Those people on the train would share their lunch with you before doling out their advice. They would fight for you if someone tried to take your seat. They cared for you as if you were their family – and they felt justified in advising you (and probably even abusing you), in the same spirit.
Now there’s no family. We don’t even smile at strangers, let alone sharing lunch with them, we’re more likely to be spectators if someone gets hurt, than actually reach out and help. Hell, in my apartment, even friends stand back and watch with glee as you get into a fist-fight with someone else. I’m talking about adults.
We’ve given up the idea of one world, one family, but we refuse to give up the privilege of intruding upon others’ lives. We want our right to keep others awake at night, without ever investing in them. We want to pollute the air they breathe in the name of celebration, because we don’t care about the breathing difficulties their children have – after all, it won’t be us sitting by the bedside or rushing the child to the hospital, so who cares?
Are we being forced to give up our culture? Truth is we flushed it down the drain eons ago. Simple things like wearing a tilak or bindi – something that is meant to protect us from loss of energy, we don’t bother with. Brahmins aren’t supposed to leave their hair open/ loose – but not very fashionable, so who cares? And they make more money as an engineer so all that sadhana they were supposed to do daily can wait till retirement. And they were never supposed to cross an ocean, and somehow nobody protested when that rule was conveniently forgotten. But Diwali fireworks? Ooohhh no no, Goddess Lakshmi must be pleased on all accounts, even if it kills someone. Doesn’t matter if this practice was mainly done to drive away insects, using harmless chemicals and in much smaller numbers. Who cares for the real reason, this is our culture, right? We must save the wrapping paper while we dispose off with the gift. We will replace real diyas with electric lights, that doesn’t corrupt our culture. We will buy sweets, oh we’ll even use cakes and ice-creams to celebrate, instead of making sweets at home – because that used to be a celebration of togetherness, everyone cooked together, where’s the together now? Husband-wife and a toddler? But fire-works? Without this there’s no Diwali, because this is all Diwali is about.
Hindu culture in my understanding, is all about letting the God/Goddess reside within. That is why we live in a country full of roadside temples, as a constant reminder of that fact. But it looks like we’ve still forgotten. When houses were far away from each other, when a village was mostly just one extended family where nobody celebrated if a person was sick, dying or recently deceased, it was completely fine to make all the noise they wanted. Pollution was OK because we were barely a tenth of our current population and density. Thnigs are different today. And if anything, Hindu culture has been about adaptation – it is how we survived centuries of invasions and conversions. So if you protest the removal of a practice that is hurting people, then you’ve forgotten your culture.
P.S. The story I began with, no idea who to credit this with as it is a story my father used to tell me in childhood. May have been Osho’s, who knows.. he used to read a lot of Osho back then.
P.P.S.: If you think bursting crackers doesn’t her anyone, try talking to someone who has asthma and ask them if they agree.